What is a Ganglion Cyst?

A ganglion cyst is a noncancerous cyst that most commonly develops along the tendons or joints of the wrist or hand, although they can also sometimes develop in the ankles or feet. They are typically round or oval shaped and filled with a jelly-like substance. Ganglion cysts vary in size as smaller cysts can be pea-sized and the larger ones can measure around an inch in diameter. The can be painful if they develop in an area that places pressure on a nearby nerve and they can also interfere with joint movement depending on location. They are most common in younger people between the ages of 15 and 40 years old and women are more likely to be affected than men.

What Causes Ganglion Cysts?

The exact cause of ganglion cysts is unknown. They grow out of joint or along the lining of a tendon and look like tiny water balloons on a stalk. It seems that they occur when the tissue surrounding a joint or tendon bulges out of place. The thick jelly-like fluid inside the cyst is similar to the lubricating fluid found in joints or around tendons.

What Are The symptoms of Ganglion Cysts?

The following are all characteristics of a ganglion cyst:

  • Ganglion cysts normally develop along the joints or tendons of the wrists or hands. Occasionally people develop them on their feet or ankles and although it is not as common, the cysts can occur near other joints on the body as well.
  • Ganglion cysts are round or oval and usually measure around an inch or less in diameter, however some are so small that they can not be felt. The size of the cyst can fluctuate and grow larger if the joint is used in repetitive motions.
  • Ganglion cysts do not usually cause any pain unless it is pressing on a nerve. Even if the cyst is not visible it can cause pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness.

Should I See a Doctor?

If you experience a noticeable lump or pain in your wrist, hand, ankle or foot, see your doctor. A diagnosis can be made and the proper treatment administered.

How are Ganglion Cysts Diagnosed?

  • Medical history and physical examination: Your physician will discuss medical history and symptoms. He or she might ask how long you have had symptoms of a ganglion, whether it changes in size and whether or not it is painful. He or she will likely apply pressure to the cyst to check for any tenderness and might hold a penlight to the cyst to see if light shines through as ganglion cysts are filled with a translucent fluid.
  • Your physician might also choose to have x-rays taken. Ganglion cysts will not show up on an x-ray but this is a good way to rule out any additional or more severe medical conditions.

Treatment From a Healthcare Professional

Your doctor may suggest one of the following treatments depending the size of the cyst and how much pain is present:

  • Activity can cause a ganglion cyst to get larger and so your doctor may recommend wearing a wrist brace or splint to immobilize the area. As the cyst shrinks, it may release the pressure on your nerves and help with relieving pain.
  • Your doctor may want to perform a procedure call aspiration. During the procedure a needle is used to drain the fluid from the cyst. Before the aspiration, your doctor may inject an enzyme into the cyst to make the jelly-like contents easier to remove. After aspiration, some doctors will inject a steroid into the cyst to reduce the chances of it reoccuring.
  • If other treatments do not work for you, surgery may be an option. During this procedure your doctor will remove the cyst and the stalk that attaches it to the joint or tendon. Rarely, the surgery can injure the surrounding nerves, blood vessels or tendons.

Pain Management

To help relieve pain associated with ganglion cysts,  consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen (Aleve). In some cases, wearing different shoes or changing how you lace them can relieve the pain associated with ganglion cysts on your ankles or feet.

Places to Get Help

Get excellent bone and joint treatment from the top doctors at OrthoArizona – Arcadia.